FIA GT Championship 2008 - Round 1

                     Tourist Trophy - Silverstone April 19-20th

The opening round of the 2008 FIA GT Championship took place at Silverstone Circuit on 19-20th April, at stake as well as the championship points was an opportunity to win the prestigious Tourist Trophy. The first Tourist Trophy race was held on the Isle of Man back in 1905 and was won by John Scott Napier driving an 18hp Arrol Johnston. The Trophy has graced a number of venues since those heady days including, ARDS, Donington, Dundrod, Goodwood, Oulton Park and has taken place at Silverstone on the Grand Prix Circuit for the past 3 years. Some illustrious drivers have their names etched on the Trophy; amongst their numbers are Rudolf Carraciola, Tazio Nuvolari, Stirling Moss, Peter Collins, Innes Ireland, Graham Hill, Denny Hulme, Jochen Mass, and Derek Bell. An impressive list indeed and today's drivers were needless to say very keen to add their names to the list. Last year's winning Vitaphone Maserati team were back to attempt the hat trick having won the race in 2006 and 2007. The winning driver pairing from 2007 of Mika Salo and Thomas Biagi have moved on however, with Salo absent from this year's event and Biagi moving to contest the GT2 class with Christian Montanari in the AF Corse Ferrari F430 GT2. The FIA GT CHampionship is for cars complying with GT1 and GT2 classes as per the International GT regulations. Cars complying with the LMGT1 and LMGT2 are also permitted. Teams are permitted to use four sets of dry -weather tyres per event. Three engines are allocated per car per season and in the event that this number is exceeded the competitors must serve a stop-go penalty in the subsequent race. A handicapping system is also employed to equalise the field and ensure close and competitive racing. Cars finishing in the top three in a race will be allocated handicap weights to carry in the following race with GT1:40-30-20kgs and GT2 20-15-10kgs. Points are scored by the first eight finishers on the basis of 10, 8, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. The 2008 Championship will be fought over 10 rounds and will this year for the first time ever head out to South America where the final round will take place at San Luis in Argentina. The field comprises some spectacular machinery with most of the world's major sports car manufacturers represented including Ferrari, Maserati, Chevrolet, Lamborghini, Aston Martin, Porsche and Saleen. The sight of these powerful cars attacking a fast flowing circuit such as Silverstone is a spectacular sight to behold and with up to 630 bhp available the drivers are kept very busy indeed. Free practice for the race began under dull, breezy and cold conditions at Silverstone, one consolation however was that although it threatened, the rain did actually keep away for the duration of the opening session. Karl Wendlinger and Ryan Sharp were fastest, completing 25 laps in the Jet Alliance Aston Martin DBR9 with a 1 min 44.106sec lap. The Corvette C6R of Marcel Fassler and Jean Denis Deletraz was next up, ahead of the Vitaphone Maserati MC12's of Andrea Bertolini/Michael Bartels and Miguel Ramos/Alexandre Negrao. The Aston Martin DBR9of Phillip Peter and Allan Simonsen made it four marques in the top six, with the final top six placing going to Christophe Bouchut and Xavier Massen's Corvette C6R. The one hour twenty minute pre qualifying session saw the Wendlinger/Sharp Aston Martin pushed down to fourth place with the Corvette of Mike Hezemans and Fabrizio Gollin leaping up the order to take the top spot with a time of 1 min 43.084 sec from the Corvette of Bouchut/Maassen in second place and the Aston Martin of Lichtner-Hoyer/Muller. The Maserati MC12 of Bertolini/Bartels and the Corvette of Fassler/Deletraz rounded out the top six. Qualifying commenced late in the afternoon at 17:15 and as the session got underway the prospect of rain looked ever more likely. The qualifying was split into two short sessions each of fifteen minutes duration with the GT2 cars out first. As the cars took to the track very light rain began to fall but not enough to cause too many issues for the drivers. Around halfway through the session the rain became more persistent on some parts of the track, however Andrew Kirkaldy made the best of the conditions in the CR Scuderia Ferrari F430GT to secure pole for the category, a delighted Kircaldy commented that the result was a fantastic achievement for such a new team and that everyone had worked tirelessly throughout the winter to make it all possible. Fastest overall in the first part of qualifying was the Saleen S7R in the G2 category driven by Sean Edwards. Richard Westbrook Prospeed Porsche was second fastest in the GT2 category having led the session early on. The Porsche formed the meat of a Ferrari sandwich with the Vilander/Bruni car almost a second adrift. By the time the GT1 cars hit the track the conditions had deteriorated further with the cars slipping and sliding on the damp surface. The session was interrupted immediately for technical reasons resulting in all cars returning briefly to the pits. When the session restarted the drivers were struggling to keep the cars on the circuit as the power was applied and some spun, including the JMB Maserati MC12 and the SRT Corvette with Bouchut at the wheel. Despite this setback Bouchut recovered to take a front row grid position alongside Marcel Fassler's Corvette. Fassler who excelled in the rain at Spa last year underlined his wet weather skills with a 1 min 55,220 sec lap to secure pole position. Karl Wendlinger set the third fastest GT1 time in the Jet Alliance Aston Martin, but was unable to beat the time of Sean Edwards set in the earlier part of the session so took fourth place overall. Mike Hezemans/Fabrizio Gollin and Phillip Peter/Allan Simonsen rounded out the top six in what by now was a very dark, dreary and damp Silverstone. The weather on race day was similar with relatively poor visibility as the cars took to the circuit for the morning warm-up. Fastest again in this session was the Fassler/Deletraz Corvette from the Peter/Simonsen Aston Martin and the Vitaphone Maserati's of Bertolini/Bartels and Ramos/Negrao. The race started with a rolling start in the still gloomy conditions and saw the no 33 Aston Martin of Wendlinger/Sharp leading the field from the Corvette of Bouchut Massen. The weather conditions improved during the race necessitating the teams switching from wets, to intermediates and finally to slicks, the timing of which would prove to be pivotal in securing victory. The Fassler/Deletraz Corvette took the lead on lap 5 underlining the strong performance of the marque throughout the weekend, after a spin at Luffield dropped Wendlinger to 5th. The sister car of Muller/Lichtner-Hoyer spun shortly afterwards allowing Wendlinger back up to 4th. At the halfway mark the Aston Martin of Simonsen/Peter led from the Corvette of Fassler/Deletraz, The Aston Martin of Wendlinger/Sharp and the Corvettes of Bouchut/Massen and Hezemans/Gollin.  With 20 minutes of the race remaining the safety car appeared on track and the leading Aston immediately pitted and managed to retain his lead, but this was to be short lived. Sharp now behind the wheel of the Jet Alliance Aston exerted more and more pressure on the leader and squeezed through in the complex, Peter was soon demoted to third by the rejuvenated Maserati of Bartels, who had also overcome the Corvette of Maassen as he clawed his way back to the front runners. Gollin meanwhile was storming ahead but in the end had to settle for 5th as time ran out before he was able to mount a serious challenge on Maassen for 4th place. A delighted Ryan Sharp took the flag after two exciting hours of racing, to secure the coveted Tourist Trophy for the Jet Alliance team, with the Maserati of Bartels a mere 3.8 seconds adrift in 2nd place. Completing the top six was the Aston of Lichtner-Hoyer/Muller. Tony Vilander/Gianmaria Bruni won the GT2 race in their Ferrari F430 GT2 from Rob Bell and Andrew Kircaldy in the all new CR Scuderia car.



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 The FIA GT Championship now heads off to the next round at Monza in Italy on 17-18th May.